We were told to line up in a single file, be quiet and to take the stairs down to the cafeteria. That’s about all we were told, other than the fact that our gray-haired, bespectacled sixth grade teacher had a childhood friend who was in Reno for the day. She asked if he’d stop by the school. He asked if we had a piano he could borrow.
We did. It was in the cafeteria.
When we shuffled in, he was already seated there, at an angle to the piano that was reserved for Christmas concerts and the plinkings of our music teacher. This guy looked nothing like our music teacher. For starters, he smiled. Effortlessly. He also had a cool about him that clashed with the crewcut crowd before him. He had a beret. And a mustache and glasses. And a mischief behind sweet eyes and a soft smile.
I liked this guy . I had no idea who he was or what we were in for, but he was incredibly likable. And when Mrs. Abbot introduced her friend at the piano, there wasn’t one among us who had any clue of who he was.
“This is a friend of mine who’s graciously accepted an offer to play a few songs for us, class. Let’s all give a big hello to Vince Guaraldi.”
Vince Guaraldi. I was busy in life with names like Mays and McCovey and Marichal. Those were names of stature. Not Guaraldi.
Then he played.
He played “Linus and Lucy” and the mystery of this man instantly evaporated. Now we knew this guy and this guy knew us and suddenly heroes weren’t guys limited to playing on baseball diamonds and football fields, they could also play hunched over pianos. He was banging away at the piano and we were free to stand up and dance, a momentary reprieve from the taskmaster rules of Mrs. Abbott, who was beaming at the back of the room.
While I still idolized the Beatles and The Beach Boys, that 30 minutes of piano broadened my appreciation of music immensely. I met a legend that day and established a love for jazz that grows richer by the year.
By Scott Mortimore